Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel: Book Review


The book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel was about a young mans (Edward Frenkel) journey into the depths of mathematics.  Frenkel grew up in Kolomna, Russia, the son of two engineers.  In school, Frenkel hated mathematics and had a passion for quantum physics until a family friend (Evgeny Evgenievich) converted him to mathematics, where he eventually fell in love with it.  Evgenievich was Frenkel's first, and one of many, guides into the world of mathematics.  After high school Frenkel decided to apply to Moscow State University where antisemitism raged rapidly at the time (in the 1980's).  Being Jewish, Frenkel knew he had little hope getting in but applied anyways. Frenkel encountered extreme and unjust antisemitism during his entrance exam and didn't get in because of it.  Frenkel had no choice but to go to one of the only colleges in Moscow that wasn't antisemitic, Kerosinka, in hopes of pursuing his dream of becoming a mathematician.  Frenkel had many teachers and guides giving him research projects including Yakov Isaevich, Borya Feigin, Victor Kac, and Vladimir Drinfeld just to name a few.  Vladimir Drinfeld was perhaps the most influential, since it was him who showed Frenkel the way into the Langlands Program.  Frenkel's dream of becoming a mathematician came true at an early age because he had so many great mathematician realize his potential and educated him further in his research.  After college Frenkel had no hope of going to graduate school in Russia but he was becoming so prominent in the mathematics field that Harvard University invited him to accept a mathematics award.  He decided to stay at Harvard, completing his Ph. D and later became an associate professor.  Because of help from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Frenkel and his colleagues were granted millions to further research the Langlands Program.  The langlands programs big question was why the electromagnetic duality leads to the same langlands dual group that mathematicians discovered in a totally different context?  Frenkel has published many works and has won prestigious mathematics awards for his hard work and brilliance.  After Harvard University, he decided to become a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley where he currently resides.

I thoroughly enjoyed Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality and highly recommend it to everyone I encounter.  He allows you to see mathematics in a light never before seen and in a understandable way for any audience.  I am a pure mathematics major and reading this book just opened my eyes to the true beauty of mathematics that I hadn't realized before.  Frenkel's passion and love really came through in this book.  He shows that mathematical formulas express an eternal truth about the universe and this truth belongs to everyone, everywhere.  Frenkel says it best when he writes, "mathematical formulas are some of the purest most versatile, and most economical expressions of truth known to man.  They convey timeless and precious knowledge, unaffected by fads and fashion, and impart the same meaning to anyone who comes in contact with them.  The truths they express are the necessary truths, steadfast beacons of reality guiding humanity through time and space."  I love the fact that Frenkel sees mathematics as an art form and also inevitable truths about our world.  His words are truly inspirational.  

Some of my favorite thought-provoking quotes from the book are:

Albert Einstein wrote, "How can it be that mathematics begin after all a product of human thought independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?"

Kurt Godel wrote, "mathematics describes a non-sensual reality, which exists independently both of the acts and of the dispositions of the human mind and is only perceived, and probably perceived very incompletely, by the human mind."

Edward Frenkel wrote, "each new result in math pushes back the veil covering the unknown."

Heinrich Hertz wrote, "one cannot escape the feeling that these mathematical formulas have an independent existence and intelligence of their own, that they are wiser than we are, wiser even than their discoverers."  

Edward Frenkel wrote, "mathematical truths seem to exist objectively and independently of both the physical world and the human brain.  There is no doubt that the link between the world of mathematical ideas, physical reality, and consciousness are profound and need to be further explored." 

David Thoreau wrote, "we have heard about the poetry of mathematics, but very little of it has yet been sung."

This last quote is one of my favorites because it seems so true.  Very few know the true art form of mathematics and it needs to be shown to more of the population in an understandable way.  Frenkel recognized this so wrote a screenplay and created a movie with friend, Reine Graves, called Rites of Love and Math as an allegory showing that a mathematical formula can be beautiful like art.  In this movie the main character finds the formula for love but it also can be used for evil, so he has it tattooed on his girlfriends body to keep it safe and eternal.  

We have only discovered very little of the puzzle of mathematics and are just touching the surface of putting some of the separate pieces together.  I cannot even come close in imaging what the whole picture will look like.  I only wish I could be around for the day the puzzle is complete and the true beauty of mathematics is revealed to the world for everyone to admire.      


  1. Morgan, both your review on your blog and the one you gave in class have made me so excited to begin reading this book. I love that he started out despising mathematics, but completely changed his mind and became a math genius. It just goes to show the power and beauty of this subject that is often misunderstood.

  2. Good review, and I agree with Kalie that your enthusiasm (and Katrice's) was contagious. 5Cs +

    That Thoreau quote is great.